BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - On a cold and rainy Thursday afternoon at Indiana’s Billy Hayes Track, the LSU track and field teams were led by a quartet of athletes earning a coveted Top 12 finish in their events and advancing to the national semifinals on the opening day of the 2011 NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.
Juniors Brieanna Kennedy (hammer throw) and Rachel Laurent (pole vault) each earned their place in the national semifinals for the Lady Tigers, while both senior Zedric Thomas and Damar Forbes earned a spot in the long jump semifinals to lead the Tigers qualifying in Thursday’s opener.
The semifinal and final rounds for the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships are set to run June 8-11 at Drake Stadium on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
In addition to those who earned a spot in the NCAA semifinals in the field events, 12 athletes advanced to national quarterfinals on the track in events that will be held later this weekend.
Kennedy kicked off the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds for the Lady Tigers in the meet’s first event with a new personal record en route to a 12th-place finish in the women’s hammer competition.
She wasted no time in securing her spot in the NCAA semifinals after uncorking a near seven-foot best of 191 feet, 3 inches on her very first throw of the event. Kennedy’s performance not only won the first of three flights in the women’s hammer throw, but it stood as the 12th-best performance among 48 athletes in the competition looking to advance beyond the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.
A native of Newark, Del., Kennedy shattered her previous PR of 184-4 with the No. 4-ranked effort in the program’s history. She entered the meet ranked No. 34 in the field of 48 competing in Bloomington.
While Kennedy earned a spot in the national semifinals in the meet’s first event, Laurent became the Lady Tigers’ second semifinalist in the final event of the evening on the women’s side by earning one of the 12 qualifying spots in the women’s pole vault with a third-attempt clearance at 13-1 ½.
Forbes only needed to take three jumps to advance to the NCAA semifinals as his top mark of 25-8 ¼ was the second-best jump of the evening and allowed him to pass on his final three attempts. Thomas qualified with the 12th and final spot into the semifinal round on his sixth and final jump of the competition with his jump of 24-7 to finish just one half inch ahead of the 13th-place finisher.
“The focus of our athletes in this kind of a competition should be doing whatever it is that they need to do to advance to the next round. Nothing else really matters,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “It really doesn’t matter what your performance might be, as long as it is in that top 12 to qualify for the semifinals. Overall, I thought our athletes did a good job today of advancing to the next round.
“This has been a difficult day, but it’s been that way for everyone in this meet. Preparation for the athletes is key in advancing in these types of conditions. You don’t necessarily have to have the best performance, but you do have to compete with the right mentality in order to qualify for the next round.”
Senior Kenyanna Wilson led a host of Lady Tigers advancing to national quarterfinals on the track during Thursday’s first-round action as she was the fastest qualifier in the 100-meter dash.
Wilson won the third of six preliminary heats in the short sprint with a clocking of 11.25 seconds run into a slight headwind of 0.1 meters per second. Junior Semoy Hackett and sophomore Kimberlyn Duncan are set to join Wilson in Friday’s quarterfinal round after winning their respective heats. Hackett had the third fastest time of the day at 11.43, while Duncan ran the fifth-fastest time of the opening round at 11.51.
In addition, freshman Toshika Sylvester earned a spot in the quarterfinals in her NCAA debut as she had a third-place finish in her first-round heat with an 11.60 clocking for the 13th-fastest time of the afternoon.
“I think being relaxed and going through the drive phase relaxed was the key. Coach wanted us to focus on that, not the conditions,” Wilson said. “Relaxing helped me block out a lot of the outside distractions, and I thought it was my most relaxed race of the year. When you get to these kind of championship meets, it comes down to qualifying and just getting to the next round.”
Wilson’s performance was impressive considering the heat was called back to the blocks after an apparent false start by someone in the field on the first firing of the gun. The Lady Tiger senior raced out to a quick start, taking control of the race coming out of her drive phase en route to an 11.25 opener.
“The starter was taking a little longer telling us to get set, and I got set a little slowly,” Wilson said. “So, I wasn’t all the way set when he shot the gun. I knew there was some movement, but it wasn’t me.”
Other Lady Tigers earning a spot in the national quarterfinals with their performance on Thursday include junior Cassandra Tate in the 400-meter hurdles (57.55), sophomore Siedda Herbert in the 400-meter dash (54.94), sophomore Charlene Lipsey in the 800-meter run (2:07.09) and sophomore Laura Carleton in the 1,500-meter run (4:23.93) for a total of eight Lady Tiger qualifiers on the day.
Junior All-American Horatio Williams set the pace for four Tigers earning a spot in the quarterfinals with his performance in the 100-meter dash. While running in the sixth of six first-round heats, Williams raced to a second-place finish with a wind-legal time of 10.31 that stood as the seventh-fastest of the day.
Three Tigers also qualified for the quarterfinal round of the men’s 400-meter dash, including junior Riker Hylton (46.95), junior Robert Simmons (47.76) and sophomore Caleb Williams (47.76).
LSU kicks off the second day of competition at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds at 10 a.m. CDT with the qualifying round of the men’s hammer throw. The first round of the women’s 100-meter hurdles starts the action on the track at 3:30 p.m. with events running through 7 p.m. with the 200-meter dash prelims.
Fans are reminded that a live video stream of Friday’s action at E.C. Billy Hayes Track will begin at 3:30 p.m. for the start of the running events and will be provided by iuhoosiers.cstv.com. Fans can also receive live updates of the Tigers and Lady Tigers competing at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in becoming a fan of LSU Track & Field on Facebook and following @LSUTrackField on Twitter.